Dramatic Vocalise Database

Newman, Alfred (1901–70)

The Robe (1953)

The movie The Robe is a tale of Roman tribune Marcellus (Richard Burton), his slave Demetrius (Victor Mature), and the robe that Jesus wore before his crucifixion. In several scenes the magical power of the robe is signified by the use of accompanying dramatic vocalization. The music, by Alfred Newman, is most developed during the scene of the crucifixion, the focal point of the entire movie. At this point the score contains several minutes of uninterrupted dramatic vocalization suggestive of ritualistic keening, the most prolonged use of this technique in any movie up to its time.

(Nauman 2009, 246)

Alfred Newman also wrote the scores to The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939), Wuthering Heights (1939), The Song of Bernadette (1943), and The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965). Musical themes from The Robe were included in its sequel, Demetrius and the Gladiators (1954), score by Franz Waxman.



Opening Credits

Many other films use wordless vocalization in their opening credits to foreshadow the “surprise” yet to come. See The Wizard of Oz (1939), The Ox-Bow Incident (1942), Demetrius and the Gladiators (1954), The Abyss (1989), Mars Attacks! (1996), and Twister (1996).

This opening clip closely resembles the opening of the much later The Mummy Returns (2001) since in both cases the movie company has their logo presented before the action proper, yet accompanied by exotic music and wordless vocalization. However, in the case of The Robe, the vocalization begins immediately, with the very first notes of the orchestra, whereas in The Mummy Returns the chorus arrives only later, following the corporate logo.

The Messiah

As Jesus approaches lively dance music in 6/8 time (including tambourine) accompanies him. The exuberant music includes wordless singing expressing the crowd’s delight. When Jesus passes Demetrius the music radically changes to that of contemplation. Dramatic vocalization here serves to signify the spiritual transformation of Demetrius.

Demetrius’s Calling

Demetrius, in his search for Jesus, learns from Judas that the Romans have already taken him away. [a bocca chiusa]

Galgotha (The Crucifixion)—The Robe

Demetrius curses his master. A storm scene, much like the one in Verdi’s Rigoletto (1851). This one clip is the focal point of much of the movie. The soundtrack contains 6+ minutes of uninterrupted vocalization.

The Curse

[0:49:10–0:49:36] The curse returns to haunt the Roman.

The Curse Again



Demetrius and the Roman re-united—the robe, the curse.

The Execution

Vocalization leading up to the execution.